Writing: June 13, 11:30pm, sitting on my bed at the horrible “hotel room” of Sentrum Pensjonat nearby the train station. I really want to leave Oslo already.
Woke up early this morning as I had to take an early train from Helsingborg to Gothenburg, then connect to Oslo; and when I say “had to”, I mean it. As it’s a Sunday we’re talking about, train service is less frequent and there was exactly one itinerary that would bring me to Oslo on time for the concert—leaving 9:43am, arriving 4:45pm. Yes, that’s 7 hours train ride, including half an hour break in Gothenburg. Any missed connection, delay or such trouble—and I miss the concert.
Wonderful breakfast at the Viking Hotel where I had spent the night; checked out and left the scene.
The night before, I was hungry before going to bed so I had to resort to devouring whatever was edible in the mini‐bar. Interestingly enough, the blonde at the reception decided to not charge me (“that’s OK, it’s not like you had wine or anything like that”). Thanks babe. I owe you one.
Now that I’m thinking about it, saying “the blonde” is wrong; no, not because it implies any sort of hair‐racism—but rather because, in Sweden, everybody and their sister is blonde. The less common event is to find a brunette.
ANYWAY. Walking towards the main railway station in a cloudy, early Sunday morning was a sub‐interesting experience. Cold, windy, gloomy; lets get the hell out of here.
At the station I had about 45 minutes to kill so I killed them at an “Espresso House” store. “Espresso House” is a Swedish chain of espresso products and pastries—not unlike the common coffee shop you may be used to; however, strangely enough for a coffee chain, these guys actually have great cappuccino.
Entering the store, the first thing I noticed and laid my eyes upon was the pastries stand: I was focusing on what looked like a chocolate ball but was too big to be one.
“Hmpf”, I mumbled while raising my head, having my eyes meet with those of a drop‐dead (!), gorgeous (!!) blonde (ahhhh, shit) barista.
– “You should try one. It’s called chokladboll, it’s very different than regular chocolate balls.”
I couldn’t say no, even had it been a ball of fresh horse manure she was holding.
She was apparently intrigued by the sight of a semi‐tired individual, obviously non‐Swedish, dressed funny carrying a big backpack on his back, so she started a conversation, asking me all sorts of questions such as where I’m from etc etc.
She told me she hates the cold weather in Sweden and that she wishes to return to Namibia where she just from after doing some practice there.
I never met or known anyone who even said the word “Namibia”, let alone be there.
I was too tired to continue any sort of conversation so I Just got my order and sat down, slowly devouring that miracle chokladboll. It is, indeed, very different than any chocolate ball I recall eating. Can’t put my finger on what the difference is, though. I guess you should try.
Time’s approaching… time to take the train. It arrived & left on time; yes! one train down, one to go. Now lets hope for no delays / cancellations.
The ride from Helsingborg to Gothenburg rides, at times, right along the ocean. It was a cloudy day, meaning the view was still nice but not as amazing as it would have been had the sun bothered to shine. I was very busy completing June 12’s blog entry so didn’t put much attention to the ride.
Train arrived on time to Gothenburg—check!—and the departure board says that the next train is scheduled to be on time. I had 25 minutes so I had another cappuccino, also in an “Espresso House” store, now in Gothenburg’s train station. Same good cappuccino taste. Also, I figured that might be a great time to have lunch as I’m facing a 3 hours train ride, arriving to Oslo rather late and who knows how hungry I would be. Fantastic chicken‐breast sandwich with all bunch of vegetables, and I was ready to roll.
Looking at the train, I suddenly realized that there’s quite some people traffic around it. I decided to not take any risk and just board early. Turns out that the entire first‐class car was already reserved, and I had to suffice with a 2nd‐class seat, which are given first‐come first‐served. And get this: the train was almost entirely full once it departed.
Phewwwww. A close one.
NSB’s 2nd‐class seats are almost as good as other carriers’ 1st‐class seats. They recline very handsomely so, altogether, save for some noise here and there caused by extremely talkative people (mostly chicks) the ride was just fine. I had the luck to sit next to a Norwegian guy named Magne, who turned out to be a great conversation companion. Hell, he even knew who Mark Knopfler was. All the power to you, Magne (I know you’re reading this. You promised!), was nice meeting & chatting with you and thanks for the advice!
Writing: June 14, on board the 8:11am train from Oslo to Bergen. First class seat, very comfortable. Three mature Norwegians sitting in a 4‐seat group next to me, talking loudly. Shut the fuck up already, will you.
They say that train rides in Norway are beautiful; the most famous scenic train ride in Norway (which is also considered as one of the most scenic rides in the world) is the Flåm (read: “Fl‐ao‐m”), which travels through mountains, lakes and fjords; the train I took to Oslo was not it; the train to Bergen, which I am taking today, crosses a part of the scenic railroad so I’m expecting some serious beauty along the way. Having said that, the ride to Oslo itself wasn’t that bad; although mountains were nowhere to be found (some hills here and there, nothing too breath‐taking), there were a few nice bodies of water along with beautiful greenery.
On 4:45pm exactly, the train made it to Oslo. I was happy to be there on time; unfortunately, that was the last moment of happiness in Oslo.
Not having too much time on my hands (the last email from markknopfler.com mentioned a concert start time of 9:00pm, but I suspected that it was wrong; my suspicion was correct—the concert started at 8:00pm), I decided to walk straight to the hotel before addressing other needs such as food and drinks.
Now, Norway is known to be a country where everything is just plain too expensive to be real. In the annual survey published by the UN regarding the “most liveable countries”, Norway often ranks first which means that people, in general, are very happy to live here. Taxes are very high, which, according to the locals, is the reason for things being so bloody expensive in here.
The reason I booked a room in Oslo so late was that I couldn’t find a hotel room that wasn’t priced ridiculously. A basic room in a 3‐star hotel at the city centre starts at around $140/night; knowing that I’m only going to sleep in the room (not too much time to spend there before the concert, plus a very early train the day after), there was no way I’m going to pay so much money for a hotel room. Might as well stay in a hostel‐like place and donate the balance, that would actually make it feel more “right”.
At the end, I found a place using booking.com which offered a room with shared bathroom and shared showers for $79/night. Yes, you read it correctly—$79/night for a room with no shower and no toilet. Considering the location—two minutes walk from the main train station, which is also a convenient location to take the tram towards the venue—this clearly was a bargain.
… Or so I thought. This is hands‐down the least enjoyable place I stayed in. Located right above a greasy restaurant, the place is seriously run‐down, offering depressing rooms and considerable amount of dust and dirt everywhere.
“You are just going to sleep there… you are just going to sleep there” I thought to myself. Miraculously, it didn’t help. That “hotel” is a black hole for joy.
Uploaded yesterday’s blog entry as soon as I entered my lousy room, then got dressed and ready for the concert. I decided to eat somewhere at the train station before taking tram number 12 towards the venue.
Sunday afternoon, and the place in Oslo where I was hanging out looked depressing. Bleak, grey, tasteless and altogether unpleasant. It’s just as if the entire city looked at you, made a sad facial expression and said “Eh, sorry, we tried”. I don’t know, maybe the reason I’m so disappointed is that I had high expectations; after all, this is the capital city of a country that is considered to be the best one to live in in the world, and with prices at the Radisson being in the $200/night range, I thought there must be something here worth seeing and doing.
Time now is 8:44am; 33 minutes into the train ride, and the train goes through a very pretty town. The rail is up above the ground, and we’re crossing a lake at the moment. High hills around, plenty of trees and red / white brick houses laid upon the slopes. It starts to get pretty in here.
So, no. Boring as hell. Not even a point comparing this to, say, London. Or Paris. Oh, I miss Paris. I miss the sense of “life” in Paris’ air, the beautiful language, the delicious food located everywhere. What a city… I shall return there. Elian!
Peppe’s Pizza appears to be a Norwegian chain selling garbage‐quality Italian food. Being the only reasonable place open at the train station (the other choice would have been Burger King), I went for their least lethal item—some salad with chicken‐breast bits in it. It was awful; I ate it for the sole purpose of surviving.
As I approached the store, I couldn’t avoid noticing this young lady staring at me while working on her laptop, and smiling. At first I thought to myself that I may be reminding her of a funny caricature she had seen before, but the stare and the smile persisted. I was in no mood for chit‐chat so, when I got the nasty salad, I chose to eat it in a somewhat distant table.
Upon getting up, I realized she was looking at me again. That must have been a very funny caricature, I thought. Anyway, I ignored and left the store, only to notice that her stare doesn’t drop.
I was determined now to see what the hell was going on. Returned to the store and approached her.
She’s looking at me.
Now, you know those moments when something happens that you just feel was wrong, and you’re trying to compute what the hell was it that was so inappropriate—all while being under the pressure of time as you need to answer somebody’s question?
That was exactly it. Something just didn’t fit in that “Yes?”.
It was the voice. I needed to take another sample.
– “Just saying Hi,” I said.
– “Oh, Hi”.
Then I went back to where I was seated, took another sip of the glass of water I was drinking before, and left. Talking to a transvestite might really be an interesting experience, but I have a show to attend.
Shaken by the utter compliment I had just received a moment before, I exited the station’s main building towards the trams. Tram number 12 takes you to the site where the Norwegian Wood Festival takes place. It started to drizzle; no worries, I was already prepared to buy one of those Poncho’s at the venue.
After figuring out the process of purchasing a travel ticket (26 Krona’s. That’s more than $3 for you, for a short ride), I boarded the tram. I was looking forward to see the path to the venue, maybe Oslo isn’t that bad after all?
Ah. Disappointment. No character; still bleak, still grey, still unwilling to smile.
15 minutes later (it’s a 4km ride), the tram arrived at the festival’s site. And that’s when things started to get uglier.
The instructions for markknopfler.com ticket purchasers were to collect the tickets at the entrance, where clear signs will be posted etc etc. Well, it may have been the rain distracting my vision but nothing was “clearly signed” anywhere. After waiting in line to enter the venue (I thought it was similar to the Helsingborg venue, where markknopfler.com ticket owners collected their tickets right at the entrance), I was told that the ticket pickup is in a booth about 20–30 meters away. Fantastic, now that I’m soaking wet, I have to go all the way back and find a booth that is “clearly signed”.
Found it and returned to the entrance.
I’m in, and there’s 30 minutes to the concert’s start.
Before I continue, here’s a disclaimer: I admit to have been brought up to be quite spoiled—money is not the point, but with a lot of love and care—and once I moved to Canada and started to become more and more independent, I also managed to compromise more than before about what would constitute my comfort zone. Still, I can’t stand dirt and mess—I’m a fairly clean & tidy individual. Dirty smelly places give me the creeps and the desire to cover myself with a blanket and wake up someplace else.
The Norwegian Wood Festival takes place in what I would call a park (as I’m on the train now with no Internet connection, there may be a few inaccuracies in my description so you’ll have to excuse me). It’s a water amusement park—there are a few swimming pools in there as well as a few slides. The stage is normally located at the bottom of a naturally‐made sort‐of amphitheatre setting; people are expected to sit on the grass, or (if they care about negligible things like health) on mats.
When you buy a ticket to a concert there, you actually buy a pass to use the on‐site facilities; I’m pretty sure that people who are registered with, or signed‐up with, the park are allowed access to concerts there (maybe for a reduced price).
Now, granted, had it been a dry, nice summer day, that would be a great place to attend a concert. Natural setting, fresh air, blue sky—well, the setting is beautiful, I’ll give you that.
BUT—and here comes the big BUT—it was raining considerably before the concert, which basically turned the entire upper section of the venue into a huge paddle of mud. Folks, it was a nightmare. On areas with thin or no grass, huge fabrics were placed in order to “protect” people from the slippery mud—thus creating another layer of slippery mud. My shoes got soiled with nasty mud right from the get‐go. Seriously, folks: put a tank there, and you got yourself a bad day in Kandahar. The place could serve as a great set for a sequel to “Apocalypse Now”. It was just so dirty and muddy.
Contrary to the Helsingborg gig, there was no benefit for markknopfler.com ticket holders; the venue was full and I couldn’t actually find anywhere to stand that would provide me with any view of the band, other than a few big screens here and there.
Here are some pictures demonstrating the mayhem:
The “lucky part” of the venue (that is: the people who were located in a spot where they could actually see the stage) was densely populated who were there mainly for the music; the upper parts was mostly populated by people who were there just to talk to each other having Mark & the band provide some sort of a background soundtrack. Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues (trains etc), that was where I was located.
It’s interesting to note that, about 5–10 minutes before the concert started, the rain suddenly stopped and it didn’t rain again during the concert. So at least one annoyance was over with.
The concert started at 8:00pm sharp; most, if not all, cheers came from the audience located at the “lucky part”; people at the upper parts were still minding their own business, mainly talking and chatting with each other over endless streams of beer.
You will have to excuse me this time for writing almost nothing about the show itself; unfortunately, I couldn’t even see the band. The big screens broadcasted a live feed from the venue, including the band members and especially Mark; but it wasn’t the same as actually watching flesh & bones. It was like looking at a DVD of the show, only instead of a comfortable couch and a 5.1 surround sound system, I was standing in a paddle of mud, wearing a Poncho, and listening to horrible sound; I bet the sound at the “lucky part” was good—the sound where I was standing sucked. Looking at how the venue is structured, it’s not hard to understand why—there simply was no structure at the upper parts. Just random paddles of mud, lots of food / drink stands and lots of noisy people.
Granted, different people enjoy concerts differently; for some people, standing in the mud with piles of beer and chatting while listening to a concert—any concert—is enjoyable. I have absolutely nothing against such people, except that their chats often interrupt other people who may actually want to listen to the music.
I can’t even tell if I enjoyed the music itself as I could barely hear most of it. Having been used to listen to such wonderful music from brilliant spots, even in general‐admission concerts, yesterday’s overall experience at the Norwegian Wood Festival was the least enjoyable concert experience so far in the tour. I guess it was bound to happen—over 87 concerts, one must be the best and one must be the worst; that one was the worst, and, quite frankly, I’ll be really surprised if this record is to be broken.
I had two options: staring at a screen that provides no excitement whatsoever, or make the best out of the experience and see what this venue is all about. I chose the latter.
The surroundings of the festival offer beautiful greenery—I wonder whether it’s called “Wood Festival” due to the fact that it is nestled in some sort of an extremely small forest‐like setting. I liked this following reflection off one of the swimming pools.
I really think that, in dry conditions, that would be a lovely place for a picnic and a concert. But the mud… the mud… the f**king mud! Aaaaaaaaargh. Take me out of here!
Back to watch the concert through the screen right after Romeo and Juliet was over, there was an “Ole‐Ole‐Ole” cheering thing going and the band joined with Mark leading on the Stratocaster, much to the audience’s joy (quite a bit of laughs). During Sultans of Swing, something wrong obviously happened to Mark’s fingernails as he appeared to clip it or polish it or something while he was introducing the band.
During the concert, the venue itself became very messy and dirty with people throwing stuff on the ground. This entire place looked as if it had to be wrapped into a single gigantic garbage bag and delivered to the closest waste management facility. Yuck.
Continuing my tour around the venue, I noticed a small shack with a few people sitting staring at something.
What the f**k is that… Ah. What’s the point.
Anyway, Germany won 4–0 over Australia. Hats off to Ze Germans (see you all in Hamburg in a couple of days).
Went back to my brilliantly inadequate viewing spot towards the end of the concert. You know… something made me sad when people were chatting, laughing and drinking beer as if this was the universe’s last call for alcohol, while Mark was singing Piper to the End. It’s just not fitting.
The concert ended at 10:00pm. I wanna say that it was a great concert but, honestly, I don’t know for sure.
Back at the hotel after a 20 minutes ride in a jam‐packed tram back to the central train station. I was eager to go to sleep—not just because I was tired but also because the very look of the room’s interior was very depressing. Quick shower first (OK, not so quick; apparently the only brilliant thing in that hotel was the giant showerhead each shower was equipped with. It was like having your own cloud over your head sprinkling hot water) and off to bed.
Signing off this post at 11:42am. Three hours left for this train ride to Bergen; the views along the way are beautiful—I’m inclined to say that they rival those of the Canadian Rockies; good competition—close, but no cigar; at most, the views so far are as beautiful as those of British Columbia’s interior.